You would think that after wasting the first year in office on a foolish attempt to “engage” Iran, Barack Obama would have had his fill of outreach to Islamists. After the Iranians treated his overtures with contempt, even Obama eventually got the picture and switched to an equally ineffective course of feckless diplomacy aimed at isolating Tehran. But apparently the president’s unfulfilled desire to make friends with Islamic extremists is still driving American foreign policy. As the New York Timesreported yesterday, the administration has embarked on a full-scale effort to “engage” with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
This is, to say the least, a major reversal of a decades-long American policy to treat the Islamists as a threat to the stability of the region as well as to the U.S.-Egypt relationship. But like New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who embarrassed himself trying to portray the Brotherhood as moderates in a series of columns, the State Department is seemingly convinced it can establish a productive working relationship with it. This is a glaring mistake not just because it is based on a misperception of the Islamists’ goals regarding democracy and willingness to keep the peace with Israel. It is also a slap in the face of the country’s military government that remains the only obstacle between the Brotherhood and the creation of another Islamic republic.
There was no doubt John McCain would back Mitt Romney for the nomination. The question is, why did the campaign decide to roll this out today, of all days? It’s understandable that Romney would want a big endorsement to help sustain the buzz over his Iowa victory. But the narrative coming out of Iowa is that Romney still has a lukewarm relationship with the base, and he’s only playing into that by appearing with the bane of the conservative grassroots.
There are still conservatives out there who hold a grudge against McCain for losing in 2008, and – rationally or not – cling to the idea that if Republicans had only nominated a more conservative candidate, Obama would never have won the election. McCain’s endorsement is helpful for Romney in New Hampshire, but maybe he should have waited a day or two for the post-Iowa chatter to die down before making the announcement.
One reason so many governments–municipal, state, federal, and foreign–are in deep financial trouble is that politicians spend above their governments’ incomes in order to curry favor with selected constituents, borrowing (and cooking the books) rather than taxing to make up the shortfall. But one reason so many economies are in deep trouble is that politicians also like to spend other people’s money in order to, well, curry favor with selected constituents.
There are a number of ways to do this, each and everyone of them economically pernicious. Richard Epstein, a distinguished law professor at NYU, has an article in today’s Wall Street Journal about rent control. Professor Epstein gives us the good news that it is possible the Supreme Court will take up a case that could result in the overthrow of rent control laws, which set maximum rents for properties, supposedly to make them “affordable” (and, of course, to get the favored tenant to vote for the political advocates of rent control). But forcing a landlord to rent an apartment for below the market rate is, almost literally, taking the landlord’s money and giving it to someone else.
In assessing what happened last night in Iowa, I agree with the conventional wisdom in several respects.
The first is that what Rick Santorum achieved in the Iowa caucuses was remarkable. It was a testament to his skills as a candidate and his virtues (including fortitude) as a man. Santorum was methodical, patient, and committed to his cause. He has proven to be a formidable debater. And in the last few weeks in particular, Santorum came across as less intense, less abrasive, and more likeable. His speech last night was at times touching and uplifting, as well as politically smart.
When Congress passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act last month that mandated a ban on all transactions with Iran’s Central Bank, it gave the administration the tool it needed to allow President Obama to make good on his promise to prevent Tehran from ever obtaining nuclear weapons. Restrictions on dealing with the bank would make it possible to put into place an oil embargo on Iran, the one type of sanction that could bring the Islamist regime to its knees. But the inclusion of waivers in the bill at the White House’s request also made it possible that nothing would be done. Though the president signed the Act into law during the holiday weekend, the release of his signing statement confirms our doubts about his intentions.
As the Wall Street Journalreported yesterday, the statement explicitly noted the sanctions were passed over his objections and might interfere “with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.” Obama’s statement bluntly warned Congress that if he was so inclined, “I will treat the provisions as nonbinding.” While administration officials said in spite of this, Obama still intended to pursue sanctions on the bank, the statement is a clear signal he has no such intentions.
So far, Senate Republicans have successfully blocked President Obama from making controversial recess appointments by using procedural tactics to keep the Senate technically “in session” during the holidays. But with the political press distracted by the GOP race this week, as John Steele Gordon noted earlier today, Obama quietly broke precedent and appointed Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – despite protests from conservatives, who claim the move was illegal:
“Today, President Obama decided to bypass the Constitution and the system of checks and balances that have served our country so well,” Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham said in a statement. “Rather than heed the advice of the Senate, President Obama decided to embark on an arrogant and unprecedented power grab. This stunning appointment represents a fundamental threat to the balance of powers and the role of the legislature.”
A team of Wall Street Journal reporters has a good overview today of China’s military buildup. They focus on the development of long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles which put at risk U.S. aircraft carriers, including the newest one, the USS Gerald R. Ford, which is still under construction. They raise legitimate if hardly new questions about whether aircraft carriers are relics of a past age of naval warfare.
Those kinds of questions are almost impossible to settle in peacetime; it was only after the Pacific War broke out, for example, that it became clear to strategists of all nations that battleships were outdated and aircraft carriers were the new capital ships of the future. Some visionaries had foreseen this eventuality in the 1930s but no navy–not even the Japanese, whose development of aircraft carriers made possible the raid on Pearl Harbor–was willing to stop building battleships and invest all of its resources in carriers. Likewise today, it is hard to imagine the U.S. Navy deep-sixing aircraft carriers even if they are increasingly vulnerable to Chinese attack if for no other reason than they remain such valuable instruments of power projection near countries such as Iran or Pakistan which lack China’s military capabilities.
Yesterday, I posted a piece sparked by the recent controversy about the Girl Scouts’ endorsement of the leftist group Media Matters to argue that, while limelight led the Girl Scouts to reverse course, such inappropriate politicization of ostensibly non-partisan groups was not uncommon. As an example, I cited National Geographic’s 2004 endorsement of the fiercely political and often anti-Semitic website of University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole.
Several Contentions readers wrote me with their own criticisms of National Geographic’s willingness to embrace partisanship if not outright propaganda. One pointed me to an article published by National Geographic in October 2002, entitled, “Lines in the Sand – Deadly Times in the West Bank and Gaza,” placed online by the organization without a pay wall. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) responded to that piece, documenting a number of factual errors which National Geographic declined to correct.
Newt Gingrich is deflating in South Carolina, down 10 points from his 43-percent peak in early December. If that follows the trend from Iowa, Gingrich still has a way to go before he reaches his bottom. And those votes haven’t been picked up by any of the other candidates; they’re still sitting on the sidelines. With Michele Bachmann out of the race, and Gingrich and Rick Santorum low on funds and organization, Rick Perry may think he has an opening here:
A determined Rick Perry said Wednesday he will not abandon his presidential campaign despite a fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
“And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State. … Here we come South Carolina!!!” the Texas governor wrote on his Twitter account.
Perry, an avid runner, attached a photo of himself jogging near a lake, wearing Texas A&M running shorts and showing a thumbs-up.
Do you think President Obama is “a nice guy, but just is [in] over his head,” or do you think the president is “utterly irrational”? You can probably guess the author of each of those assessments–Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, in that order. It’s one reason Gingrich emerged as such a threat to Romney: he’s not running to patronize the president or mentor him; he’s running to beat him.
Gingrich delivered this line at a mid-December candidates’ debate. It was probably the single best answer at a debate thus far, and it’s why Gingrich remains a threat: there will be two debates before next week’s New Hampshire primary, two before the South Carolina primary that follows it, and two before the crucial Florida primary after that.
News that the Taliban have agreed to open an office in Qatar is being greeted as a breakthrough in negotiating an end to the Afghan war. It is supposedly a sign the Taliban are genuinely committed to peace talks. Perhaps so, but count me as skeptical.
It is worth recalling the North Vietnamese government was hardly averse to negotiating even while its troops and Viet Cong proxies were battling U.S. and South Vietnamese troops. Indeed, Hanoi was even willing to sign the 1973 Paris Peace Accord supposedly ending the Vietnam war. But that was not a sign the Communists had given up their goal of dominating the South. It was merely a sign they were willing to use talk of peace along with acts of war to achieve their objectives. The Paris Peace Accord turned out to be the best move they ever made, because it terminated U.S. aid to Saigon. Just two years later, buttressed by aid from China and the Soviet Union, the North Vietnamese army rolled into Saigon.
The AP is reporting that President Obama intends to use a recess appointment today to name Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
This is a considerable escalation of the war between the White House and the Senate over recess appointments that I wrote about in Contentions in 2010, because the Senate is not in recess. The Constitution requires that neither house of Congress can recess for more than three days without the consent of the other house. The House of Representatives has not given that consent and has been holding pro forma sessions every three days, forcing the Senate to do likewise. When Democrats controlled the Senate in the last two years of the Bush administration, they held these pro forma sessions during recesses precisely to prevent President Bush from using the recess appointment power, which he didn’t.
No, it’s not Passover yet. That’s the promise, however, from Ömer Çelik, the deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling party, the Justice and Development Party, which like Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Meeting with Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Çelik quipped, “We hope we can freely sit and chat in Jerusalem soon.” That would be like Benjamin Netanyahu telling Iraqi Kurdish leader Masud Barzani that perhaps, God willing, the two could sit down in Diyarbakir, the capital of a free Kurdistan.
When the deputy head of Turkey’s ruling party meets with a terrorist leader to encourage territorial conquest, perhaps it’s time for Israel to play hardball.
S.E. Cupp at the New York Daily News makes an interesting case for why Mitt Romney benefits from his close call with Rick Santorum:
Now, prepare to see Santorum in every headline, on every news show, rising in every poll. The other candidates (what’s left of them) have him to go after him this week. And Santorum has his third place finisher, Ron Paul to attack (we got a preview of that last week). The pundits and odds makers will devote a substantial amount of airtime to hyperventilating about whether the Santorum surge can stick, and whether Paul’s rabid fans will follow him from Iowa to New Hampshire.
The Obama administration has repeatedly said it takes the threat of Iran’s nuclear break-out seriously and yet, in order to have truly biting sanctions, the Congress had to go over both Obama’s head and that of the State Department.
Showing how serious sanctions can work, Iran’s currency has declined precipitously since Congress imposed the measures against Iran’s Central Bank. Now, Turkey—whose terrorist-embracing leader both President Obama and Defense Secretary Panetta praise in the most effusive of terms—is requesting a waiver of U.S. sanctions so that its biggest refinery can deal with Iran’s Central Bank. The moment of truth is here. Is Obama serious about sanctions? Or would he prefer to kill two birds with one stone to help two adversaries at the expense of U.S. national security?
Mitt Romney’s eight-vote win in the Iowa caucuses had to leave him feeling a lot better than an equally narrow loss to surprising Rick Santorum would have felt. His first place finish will undoubtedly be followed next week by another victory in New Hampshire that will set him on what has to be considered a fairly secure path to the Republican nomination. But the shakeout from the end of a torturously long night in Iowa brought with it some bad news along with the good.
If, as he seemed to indicate in his concession speech, Rick Perry ends his presidential bid, then that will, along with the collapse of Michele Bachmann’s campaign, leave Santorum as the only one left standing of the trio who competed for the votes of social conservatives. Just as ominous for Romney was Newt Gingrich’s all but spoken vow in his speech to spend the rest of the primary season attempting to exact revenge on Mitt for the barrage of negative advertising that helped drop him to fourth. Though that still leaves Romney free of the nightmare scenario in which the relative moderate is left to face a single ascendant conservative, his path the nomination looks a bit less rosy today than it did just 24 hours ago.